Capitals believe they can rebound from ‘kick in the stomach’

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WASHINGTON (AP) A five-minute implosion made the Capitals look like the same old team in the playoffs.

They blew a two-goal lead for the fourth time in seven games to ruin an otherwise solid performance in a Game 1 loss to the back-to-back Stanley Cup-champion Penguins. That Pittsburgh stormed back to win 3-2 seemed to suggest this would be yet another chapter in the long, miserable history for the Capitals against their nemesis; the Penguins have won nine of 10 postseason meetings between the two teams.

But with fresh memories of digging out of a 2-0 series hole against Columbus in the first round, Washington doesn’t sound like a team thinking, “Here we go again.”

Players were quick to say they played a well and almost glossed over that ugly span of 4:49.

“We played a pretty good game,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They scored on (Sidney) Crosby’s three shifts in a row in the third period to win the game. Otherwise we played pretty good, so I don’t think you need to overanalyze that.”

Overanalyzing is exactly what will happen given the Capitals’ recent and franchise-long playoff history. But maybe the Capitals are better off focusing on the positives, and coach Barry Trotz expects things to click back into place for Game 2 on Sunday.

“It was a little bit of a kick in the stomach,” Trotz said Friday. “We had a couple kicks in the stomach in the first round with Columbus and you saw the response that we had. I know our group, I know the strength of our group, I know the resiliency. This group will battle back.”

It’s not so easy to guarantee the Capitals will go shift-for-shift with the Penguins like they did most of Game 1, especially with the potential return of Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin. Washington did get as many quality scoring chances, if not more, than Pittsburgh, but those third-period goals by the top line of Patric Hornqvist , Crosby and Jake Guentzel tipped the balance.

Ideally, Trotz wants the Capitals to play with the lead the same way they do to get it: Move the puck quickly, make good decisions, defend hard and maintain solid positioning. Those things didn’t happen on the three shifts against Crosby and Co., including mistakes like Dmitry Orlov not tying up Hornqvist’s stick, Alex Ovechkin tipping the puck right to Crosby, and Braden Holtby giving the puck away behind his own net.

“One mistake, one bad bounce and they’re back in the game,” Ovechkin said. “It hit my stick and goes right to Crosby’s stick. Move forward.”

Moving forward for the Capitals means cleaning up the little plays that can make a big difference this time of year. Trotz acknowledged the Penguins’ comeback “happened very quickly,” and it was enough to overshadow two competitive periods where his team arguably out-chanced and out-played its opponent.

“That’s the tough part of this game is that those inches and those swings of momentum are so huge and you try to get them back,” Trotz said. “You have some control of it, and you just want to make sure that you execute at the highest level.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.